Houston Dash can't top Washington Spirit

Despite a great penalty save from Houston Dash keeper Erin McLeod, the team still lost after a late goal from the Washington Spirit put them up 3-2 Monday.

After two tying goals and a penalty save, Houston still sees defeat at the hands of Washington

After a thrilling Friday game that ended in a loss for the Houston Dash, the team packed up and headed to Washington for a Memorial Day game. Houston may have scored their first home goal thanks to Ella Masar, but they still lost to Chicago 3-1 on Friday. Not only did they lose the match Friday but after being ejected from the game Head Coach Randy Waldrum would also be lost for this match. Traveling to Washington, it was crucial that the Dash show some sort of initiative to save their season.

The beginning of the match against the Washington Spirit was quick. The Dash held some good possession in the midfield, but every time they pushed toward the Spirit's goal, their attack was broken down. It didn't take long however for Washington to answer with their own pressure.

Very early on, in the 3rd minute, the Spirit got their first run on goal. Midfielder Jodie Taylor would take a shot on goal, but it would be cleared and kicked back to the Dash's Kaylyn Kyle. With a very poor giveaway to the back line, keeper Erin McLeod was forced off her line to stop a running Taylor. The quick clearance landed at the feet of Diana Matheson and with McLeod off her line, the Spirit player was able to notch her fifth goal of the year.

Very early, the Dash were once again down a goal.

But redemption would come in the 11th minute at the feet of Nina Burger. Both teams were working to settle in the early minutes and after a goal kick from the Spirit keeper, Masar would get on the ball, passing it back to Kika Toulouse. Toulouse would feed it through the midfield to Kyle, who would make a great one-touch pass back to Masar and streak toward goal. Masar would play down the right side, slipping the ball back to Kyle, who would get a nice touch and send it toward Burger, who was waiting behind Washington's keeper Ashlyn Harris.

One quick little sliding touch from the Austrian international and the Dash were back in it. A little offensive teamwork that finally paid off for Houston.

McLeod was tested in the 20th minute as Washington pressed forward. A few quick touches between Taylor, Matheson and Christine Nairn. Nairn would make a rocket shot on goal, which had McLeod make a huge save, diving in the air to push the ball out.

Houston would quickly come down the other end and Osinachi Ohale would make a pass to Burger, who almost notched a brace. However, she was called offsides. The first half would see much of this back and forth between the players.

Masar made a great run on the defense in the 25th minute, playing on the confidence Houston had built up after their goal. Cutting between two players, Masar turned at the right time to get a nice long pass from Becky Edwards. But Spirit keeper Harris was right there to deny her.

The energy really died down in the first half after that. The Washington Spirit seemed content to sit back and the Dash seemed plenty happy to just take their time gauging plays. The ball was kept mostly in the midfield as each team attempted to get the ball into the scoring half, but not succeeding really.

After holding most of the pressing possession, the Spirit tried forward again. The ball landed to an unmarked and onside Matheson, who came along the left side to play into Taylor, who would go up against McLeod and have her shot deflected. Seconds later in the 37th minute, Washington would press again at the Dash back line.

It would be another play between Matheson and Taylor as Matheson played a long ball into Taylor, who beat three Houston defense players and slammed it past McLeod. A great build up from Washington that put them back in the lead and the Dash back to chasing.

The confidence in the Spirit in the dying minutes of the half was evident. Their energy picked back up and it seemed most plays were happening in the Dash's half of the field. However, the Dash would give it one last go in the minute of stoppage time of the half. Burger headed toward goal again, going one-on-one with a Washington defender. She was able to turn herself around with the ball and launch at goal. Harris was off her line, but the ball would go in the side-netting.

The start of the second half had the Spirit picking back up with their confidence. Right out the gate, Taylor tested McLeod again, but the Dash keeper was on her line and made the save. After that, however, things seemed to be anything but settled between the two teams. Both teams made two substitutions early in the second half, trying to get some life into the game.

The back and forth would continue through the last half hour. Washington would have a go at goal, Houston would answer - neither would score. Dash would finally get a dangerous chance in the 71st minute as substitute Kealia Ohai made a run on goal and at the last second, kicked it back to a waiting Tiffany McCarty. It looked as if McCarty's shot would go in, but Spirit's keeper Harris would literally sit on the ball to stop it.

After the goal kick, it would go straight into the back and forth once more between the two teams. It seemed every time the Dash had a play on the Spirit's goal, Washington would come back with their own try on goal. It kept things interesting and both keepers on their toes.

Finally, the Dash would get the tie from a corner. Stephanie Ochs would take the corner, curving the ball to Ohale, who was waiting at the back post. She rose above two Spirit defense players and head it in right past Harris. It was a great corner and just the finish Houston has worked hard on, but has unable to do so far this season.

A very scary moment, however, came in the 80th minute. As Spirit's Taylor made a run on goal, McLeod came off her line and made a swipe at the ball, completely missing and taking out Taylor. The ref pointed to the penalty spot. Matheson stepped up to the spot (though the camera man must have been confused because he focused on the corner instead of goal) and McLeod thankfully was on top of it, stopping the penalty, keeping the teams 2-2.

As the game wound down and stoppage time began, Washington wasn't quite done pressing the Houston defense. Just after the 90th minute mark, Spirit's Lindsey hit a rocket toward McLeod. However, the bar would smack right against the top post and would get cleared off by the Dash.

They would press again and Christine Nairn would come out of the midfield for the Spirit, making a hard shot, sending it flying past McLeod and into the corner of goal, which would give them a 3-2 lead with seconds to go in the match. The Houston Dash would have no chance to make up that one late goal.

Once again, Houston proved with this game that the problem currently with the team isn't the fact they don't play well. In fact, they kept pace with Washington through the entire match - something they have done with the likes of Portland, Kansas City and even Seattle and Chicago.

But there is something keeping them from winning games they have shown dominance and endurance in. They have a weak back line with players who are coming from different positions and learning how to play the game at the back. The midfield can hold it's own, but does better with Arianna Romero in the mix. Without Romero, they are sketchy at best - especially with Kyle, who seems to have no desire to track back and help the defense. When she does track back, her clearances are slow and sloppy.

The Dash have a strong offense on their hands with Burger, Masar and even rookie Ohai. However, the lack of finishing keeps them off the score board and the 'W' off the stats sheets.

So it's not just one element of this team denying them victory, it's several. Houston need to dig deep and find a way to work out the chemistry and get the numbers dialed in right to start notching goals, beating their opposing team's offense, and keeping strong position of the ball in the midfield. Today proved once again they can fight and hold their own, putting forward a great game. They just need to find that magic combination to get them winning

The Houston Dash's next match will be against the Western New York Flash May 31 at 6 p.m. CT.

Starting XI:

Houston Dash - McLeod, Toulouse (Romero 59'), Ohale, Hein, Ochs; McFarlane, Kyle, Edwards; Burger (McCarty 70'), Masar, Souza (Ohai 45').

Washington Spirit - Harris, Averbuch, Gayle (Sierra 57'), Lindsey, Nairn, Matheson, Krieger, Taylor, Perez (Adams 45'), Dunn (Cuellar 86'), Huster.

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